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Maria College nursing school gets $3.5 million donation from late nurse's husband

Richard Siek receives a Nightingale Lamp from the Capital District Nurse Honor Guard at the naming ceremony for Maria College's Andrea Lewis Siek Nursing School, named in honor of his late wife.
Alexander Babbie
Richard Siek receives a Nightingale Lamp from the Capital District Nurse Honor Guard at the naming ceremony for Maria College's Andrea Lewis Siek Nursing School, named in honor of his late wife.

Maria College in Albany has named its nursing school after receiving a record-setting donation.

Richard Siek says the $3.5 million gift will honor the dedication his late wife Andrea Lewis Siek had to nursing.

The gift was given in September to celebrate what would have been Andrea’s 75th birthday.

He related one of his first memories of her, while they both worked at Samaritan Hospital, he as a custodian and she as a nurse-in-charge:

“The elevator door opened, and some of her staff came flying out of it, pushing what they called a gurney, with Andrea riding on it, on her knees, straddling a patient, giving chest compressions,” Siek said.

Also speaking Friday at the college in Albany, Diana Whalen-O’Brien said Siek was her first instructor.

 “I was 20 years old and eager to develop my clinical skills. I thought I knew everything. And then I understood that I really didn't know very much. It was a real dichotomy for people, right. I was eager to learn and be the kind of nurse that I wanted to be that I had been taught to be that I've been inspired to be. And she was committed to helping me do that,” O'Brien said.

O’Brien said Siek respected everyone, and added as someone who also became an instructor, she still carries Siek’s lessons with her.

“She had a way of being able to demonstrate how to be less talking and more showing how to be a good advocate for the patients. Her standards for patient care and our respect for the contributions of every member of the healthcare team left a lasting impression on me,” O'Brien said.

Richard Siek says, even after Andrea’s health issues cut her career short, she didn’t stop helping the community.

“She was always humble, and preferred to do so anonymously, or with as little notice as possible, certainly without fanfare, or the want or need of recognition,” Siek said.

Siek thanked the Maria College community for giving him a platform to honor his wife, who died at age 68 in 2017.

“In Andrea's name, I've had the good fortune to be able to establish a few nursing scholarships for the various levels of the nursing profession. I'm certain that Andrea would be very pleased to know these scholarships are available to assist students to become nurses so they can go on to help other people. Sort of a helping people snowball rolling down a hill, with more and more people being helped,” Siek said.

Dr. Colleen Carmody is the college’s Dean of Nursing. She says Siek’s gift is more than just a donation.

“Nursing was her profession, her passion. We are incredibly honored to have the opportunity to honor that legacy every day and going forward through our own professionalism and passion at the Andrea Lewis Siek School of Nursing,” Carmody said.

Sister Gail Waring taught Andrea at St. Peter's Hospital School of Nursing, Maria College’s predecessor, when she was a probie — a nurse-in-training — in 1966.

“Her nursing career at Samaritan is legendary,” Waring said.

The Capital District Nurse Honor Guard, made up of nurses who attend services of fellow nurses who have died, paid their respects.

“The Nightingale lamp is now forever extinguished, marking the end of Andrea's career. We thank you for your compassionate service, Andrea,” the honor guard said.

In addition to the school itself, college president Dr. Lynne Ortale says Maria is doing what it can to support students at the nearby College of Saint Rose, which also has a nursing program. The private college will shutter soon after May’s graduation.

“We are having instant admit days next week, from 10 in the morning till 7 at night. For three days, the 12th, 13th and 14th for students from St. Rose to come over and explore Maria College and what opportunities there are here for them,” Ortale said.

In addition to the school itself, the nursing simulation labs also bear Andrea Siek’s name.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.